Student Profile

Soo Young (Esther) Kim

Veleka Iwuaba in lab
Soo Young (Esther) Kim

Soo Young (Esther) Kim
Integrative Biology Graduate Program
Mentor: Joseph Hill, M.D., Ph.D.
Hometown: Ilsan, South Korea

Growing up with an illness in the family instilled in me a sense of appreciation and respect for medicine and science. My personal connection to medicine sparked my interest in biomedical science and led me to pursue it in college. As an undergraduate, I had opportunities to participate in undergraduate research programs including the SURF program at UT Southwestern. Seeing researchers work at the forefront of discovery—asking thought provoking questions to address biological problems, and translating bench discoveries to bedside therapies—was truly inspiring. The inquisitive nature of research and the prospect of being a lifelong learner attracted me to pursue scientific research.

My ongoing thesis research is focused on defining the important players in the epigenetic regulation of cardiac hypertrophy. In particular, we are interested in a family of epigenetic adaptor proteins that was recently identified as a viable drug target in the preclinical models of heart failure. My goal is to provide a molecular insight into how these proteins contribute to cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and dysfunction.

“Our open and supportive culture, together with high academic rigor, provides a unique setting in which young scientists can grow.”

Here at UT Southwestern, we are privileged with a truly collaborative scientific community. Our open and supportive culture, together with high academic rigor, provides a unique setting in which young scientists can grow. The graduate program at UTSW takes a full advantage of such environment. Our umbrella program and rotation system gives students opportunities to explore a multitude of science disciplines alongside world-class faculty and researchers. These interactions and mentorship continues to help us throughout graduate years.

One of the key strengths of the Integrative Biology program is its diversity and flexibility. The IB program provides adequate training to establish a strong foundation in human disease and physiology; at the same time, it allows students to pursue thesis work in various science disciplines. Our students' vast research interests include topics such as computational bioinformatics on cancer biomarkers, stem cell biology in adipose tissue, and molecular mechanisms of heart development. Through my program, I have had many opportunities to interact with and learn from students and faculty with different research expertise. These interactions have been an important part of my training as a scientist.

Chelsea Hepler

Chelsea Hepler in Lab
Chelsea Hepler

Chelsea Hepler
Integrative Biology Graduate Program
Mentor: Rana Gupta, Ph.D.
Hometown: River Forest, Illinois

In college, I took an exercise physiology class where I learned the principles and techniques of studying different aspects of physiology and how to appropriately analyze and interpret the data. I was able to test my own metabolic health parameters during exercise and I learned about how people adapt during acute and chronic exercise. This is what initially triggered my interest in science and motivated me to get my Master’s degree in physiology.

UT Southwestern is one of the world’s best biomedical research institutions and is recognized as a leader in the field of obesity and metabolism research. My research interests in metabolic syndrome and diabetes research drove my decision to pursue a Ph.D. here. Having the opportunity to be mentored by scientists that are leaders in their respective fields of research is a once in a life time opportunity for students.

“The numerous prestigious researchers in the Integrative Biology program, along with the strong collaborative environment, provide students with guidance and the ability to perform high-impact science.”

My thesis work centers around a transcriptional regulator called Zfp423, which functions to keep white fat cells in an energy-storing state by suppressing the genes involved in the energy-burning process. Mammals possess energy-storing white adipose tissue and energy-burning brown adipose tissue. Increasing the amount of brown adipose tissue may help fight obesity and diabetes. Using engineered mouse models, I found that visceral fat tissue (belly fat) stem cells can be directed to a thermogenic adipocyte cell fate by inactivating the expression of Zfp423. This leads to a better understanding of how developmentally distinct fat cells are formed and maintained, and suggests a novel therapeutic strategy to combat metabolic diseases associated with obesity.

What attracted me to UT Southwestern was its deep commitment to basic science research combined with its strength in the areas of metabolism and obesity research. The Integrative Biology Program at UT Southwestern is a community of highly innovative professors and students performing a wide variety of research with a focus on human health and disease. The Touchstone Diabetes Center of UT Southwestern offers students a close knit community of researchers that specialize in metabolically active tissues that control nutrient homeostasis. This community not only offers students a chance to be mentored by some of the top researchers in the field of diabetes and adipose tissue research, but also provides a chance to conduct some of the most cutting-edge research as part of their thesis projects. The numerous prestigious researchers in the Integrative Biology program, along with the strong collaborative environment, provide students with guidance and the ability to perform high-impact science. This is an outstanding environment to develop as a researcher and train to become an independent scientist.